Written for QLFC Final Round
Team: Wigtown Wanderers
Position: Beater 2
Prompt: Write a story set during Harry Potter's seventh year (1997–1998 school year).
Additional prompts: 1. (emotion) skeptical, 6. (word) never, 11. (word) disgusted, 15. (dialogue) "That's the ugliest troll I've ever seen."/ "That's the new teacher."
Words: 2915

"Write to me, Seamus," his mother says firmly, grasping his arm tightly.

Seamus nods. "Of course I will, Mam."

"Damn right you will." She nods back at him. "Have a good year."

"Thanks, Mam."

He remembers those words from seven years ago. Has it been seven years? Of course it has—time has the nasty habit of flying. She says it every year as she goes with him to the platform, she even says it to Dean.

Except that Dean isn't there. His mam's smile is a little too forced and her hug is a little too tight, and she tells him to write to her with a desperate note in her voice that's never been there before.

Part of Seamus never wants to let go of her. When he was little, he would hide behind her robes when visitors came to their house. That passed as he grew up, but the knowledge that his mam would protect him never left.

"Have a good year," she repeats as he drags his trunk away.

I love you, Mam, Seamus tries hard not to think. I'll come back.

He takes a deep breath and heaves his trunk up onto the train. Dean is usually there to help him, being much taller—he's probably grown over the summer again—but not now. Now, Seamus has to resort to a charm to lift it.

He keeps his wand at the ready to help any First Years, but none come up to him—no one comes up to him. The platform is almost deserted, the children safely on board and the parents returned home. The only people he can see are an old woman and a student: Neville.

"Don't forget Trevor!" she says briskly, but Seamus hears something desperate in her voice, the same fear he heard in his mam's.

"Thanks, gran." Neville smiles at her and leans down for a hug.

He leaves her on the platform and walks toward the train; Seamus stops staring and runs up to him, a greeting already falling from his lips.

"Seamus!" The clouds over Neville's face momentarily lift and they grab each other into a hug. "Good summer?"

"Well as can be expected, so not at all," Seamus says readily, but still smiling. He can't not smile—it's a change from his mam's worry and Dean's absence, and it's Neville. "You?"

"Pretty much the same." Neville nods.

Seamus feels his smile quickly disappear. Summer holidays were always something to talk about, but not these. With You-Know-Who back, Dumbledore dead, and Snape running the school, nothing about the summer was normal. Something terrible is coming—he can feel it. And it's not just his hatred of the situation; it's a cold feeling, right in between his heart and stomach and sometimes in this throat, threatening to come out in a storm of bile and tears.

"Come on, let's find a compartment."

Seamus nods.

"Neville!"

The airy voice startles Seamus so hard he jumps, but he laughs at himself as he gets his bearings: it's only Luna, approaching them and leading the way into the train, already in conversation with Neville.

Funny how Luna hasn't changed at all, how easily she falls into place beside them as they walk into an empty compartment. Seamus doesn't know her as well as Neville does—he doesn't even know her as well as Dean does, not having been part of the DA for so long, but her presence is comforting in its familiarity.

.oOo.

Seamus tries not to think of the Death Eaters on the train. He knows why they're there, knows what they did.

"It'll be alright," Neville says.

His tone is new. Seamus has roomed with him for six years, but never heard it before: there's something different about it, but he can't quite put his finger on what.

All conversation stops after that, no that there was much to begin with. Words feel out of place. How are they supposed to express their guilt and disgust in words after the Death Eaters leave? How are they supposed to talk like nothing happened?

Seamus stares out of the window. it's not his first time seeing Death Eaters, and it's only the first day of school—he was hoping he was wrong about things changing.

Outside, the light dims into a rainy sunset.

The door opens when it starts to rain, and Luna and Neville slide over to give room to the members of the DA.

"Hey." Seamus is the first to break the silence, looking around at the familiar faces.

"Hey." Lavender Brown tentatively smiles at him.

Seamus feels himself breathe easier as she, Parvati, Susah, and Hannah arrange themselves around him, Neville and Luna, and as Ernie, Terry, and Padma pile into the compartment after them.

It's a testament to the situation when Lavender and Parvati don't talk.

Seamus knows it's mean, but it's true. But even as he think of it, he craves for the normalcy of their chatter, and tries not to think of the reason for their silence.

.oOo.

It's impossible to fit all of them—there are more of them, now, with younger students added, and he and Ginny spared a sad smile for each other as they rode together—into a carriage.

"Come on," he says quietly to Ginny, and opens the door for her.

She nods at him and climbs in. Neville and Luna follow.

It's odd riding with them. They're all friends, and Seamus feels left out. He feels wrong, sitting there with them in silence, letting the road roll under them while everything is crumbling down around them.

He feels wrong walking out of the carriage and walking with them, without Dean at his side. Ginny's there—she's not smiling anymore, she's determined; Neville's gained a sort of resolve just over the journey from London; and Luna floats along with them like a fairy with its wings clipped. Seamus wants to be stronger for them. He wants to be stronger for the DA, who are all walking behind them; for the school, who are walking even further back; for Dean, who is Merlin knows where, possibly fighting for his life.

The doors to the Great Hall open with a creak and a snap, but they all walk in silently.

Even the Slytherins refrain from jeering, walking in with the air of a silent victory. Seamus wants to scream at them; he wants to scream even more when Snape begins to talk.

He talks and talks and talks and talks. And he's not talking a lot—he's always been a man of little words, but the heaviness of his words now hangs above every student: changes to the curriculumnecessary measures put into placeefficiency a new regime.

With the DA members at the other tables, Seamus feels more alone than ever.

.oOo.

Neville was always alone.

That's just how it was: Harry and Ron were off wandering around the castle, Seamus and Dean were nearly joined at the hip, and Neville was alone.

They never excluded him, of course, but the divisions were made, and they stayed. Now, Seamus looks at the three empty beds in their dormitory, and wonders when exactly he decided to stick with Dean.

It might have been on the platform, when he noticed the clearly Muggleborn kid trying to figure everything out. Or on the train, when he and the kid got a compartment to themselves. Or when they got to the castle and were sorted into Gryffindor together.

He's thankful Neville doesn't comment on his sniffle.

He's thankful Neville doesn't comment of his choice of bed for the night; but it doesn't feel like Dean's bed with no West Ham poster on the wall or glass of water on the bedside.

.oOo.

The morning brings with it a realization: the previous day wasn't a dream. And it was going to get worse.

A sort of cloud hangs over Hogwarts. Nothing has changed yet, but Seamus isn't the only one who can feel it, and it's scaring him. He's terrified—not in the way he is of his mother when he doesn't do his summer homework, or in the way he's scared of Professor McGonagall when he blows something up in class—he's terrified for his life. He's terrified for everyone else.

"Breakfast," Neville says. "You coming?"

Seamus nods. Ginny, Lavender, Parvati, and most of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team joins them in the Common Room, and they walk out together. It's easier that way. It's easier when he can nod and smile to the DA members as they pass each other in the hallways.

"I am announcing some staff changes." Snape's words bring silence to the Great Hall as they all still. Seamus sees Professor McGonagall stiffen at the staff table, but he knows it's a miracle she's still there at all.

The rest of Snape's words are drowned out as the new teachers come forward. Seamus knows their faces—he's seen them on the train, but he's seen them in the Daily Prophet, too, as wanted Death Eaters.

Still, he can't help but break out a small chuckle. "That's the ugliest troll I've ever seen."

"That's the new teacher," Neville says in a strangled tone.

But Snape doesn't hear Neville.

.oOo.

"A new regime" Snape said at the Welcoming Feast the previous day. Seamus spits blood out of his mouth and chuckles bitterly. A new regime, indeed.

He wonders when the Carrows—oh, Merlin, the butchers are going to be teachers—will elevate to the Cruciatus Curse.

.oOo.

I'm happy you're not here this year, Seamus thinks. You wouldn't like it. You'd be disgusted. You're always like that. You'd try to do something about it—to help somehow, I don't know. You'd get yourself killed. And I'm not being overdramatic. It's only a matter of time before they kill someone.

He brushes a hand over the bruise on his cheek. The Carrows aren't hiding their punishments anymore; midyear, and the Cruciatus hasn't come out yet. But Seamus has been in detentions with them long enough to know that it's only a matter of time.

Are you seeing the countryside? Is it nice there? You've always liked camping. I remember the World Cup. We camped out there for a week before the match—that was fun. We should do that again. Seamus closes his eyes and refuses to let the tears fall. I want to go camping with you when this is over, somewhere far, far, far away from anyone who can hurt us.

.oOo.

He hasn't written to his mam. The mail's all being searched, anyway, and there's nothing good to say. No news is good news, and he doesn't want to be the one to say "Hey, mam, how are you? Half of my friends disappeared over winter holiday, and I got hit with the Cruciatus Curse in detention today. Bloody hurts and I haven't been able to stop shaking since I got back, but it'll be fine. How's dad?"

He can't even write a letter; his hands don't feel like they're attached, and they can't stop shaking.

"Seamus?"

He turns to Neville, who's approached him from behind.

"Seamus, go to bed." There's a pause. "It'll be better in the morning, I promise."

Seamus tries to just breathe for a moment, to gather himself. "H-home… homework…"

"It'll be fine." Neville doesn't touch him, but he moves closer. "Come on, Seamus, please."

His mam wanted to keep him home for the year. Seamus didn't let her. Now, he can't tell her what happened; he can't bring her that pain.

I hope you never have to feel it, he thinks dumbly into his daily mental letter to Dean. I hope you're okay. Please stay safe.

.oOo.

"The only thing I learned this year is what real life is like," Seamus hears someone say.

"This isn't real life," someone else says—a little to desperately to be convinced by it.

"Of course not." A pause. "Real life's worse."

"Don't say that, there's First Years here."

"I'm not saying anything!"

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not, I'm just calling it like it is!"

"Please don't shout." It's another voice. "Come on, we're all tired, we're all hurt… just…"

"Yeah."

"I'm sorry."

Seamus throws his head back onto his pillow. The skeptical speaker—he doesn't know who it is, doesn't want to know—isn't talking anymore. Was their mind changed? Probably not, but they can't afford to be negative, not when they're all living in the same room.

He's been here for a day, now, and it feels more like home than anywhere in the castle has all year. There's beds, food, company. It's the company Seamus likes most of all. Sometimes it feels like the whole school is there; sometimes it feels like just two of them.

Now, twenty or thirty people are positioned all around the room, in hammocks, cots, beds, couches, all talking and listening, waiting for the day's Potterwatch.

Seamus can barely listen to it. There are daily reports of deaths and attacks. Any second, Dean's name might be said; he's ripe pretty for Snatchers, and they rarely take prisoners. When it does turn on, Seamus listens with rapt attention, but he never hears anything more than the casualty list; some people begin to cry.

He is not one of them.

Dean is alive.

.oOo.

Dean is alive.

The thought fortifies him more than it should. But the pain from his latest detention with the Carrows leaves him capable of only following one thought at a time, and right now, it's this one.

Dean is alive.

He smiles at that.

He wonders when Dean became the center of his world. It might have been on the platform, when he noticed the clearly Muggleborn kid trying to figure everything out. Or on the train, when he and the kid got a compartment to themselves. Or when they got to the castle and were sorted into Gryffindor together.

Or when Dean and Ginny broke up, and Seamus couldn't help his happiness. When they did homework together and Dean's presence made the workload somehow lighter. Or when the work was done and they walked in the grounds together. Or when they held each other—Dean was good at hugging because of his height: comforting, protective, so full of love.

Was it when Dean mentioned love?

It might have been—but Seamus already knew he loved Dean by then.

Dean is alive.

Yes, but for how much longer?

The thought is a sign of recovery, but Seamus desperately wishes for a happier one.

.oOo.

"It's not safe to go out there anymore," Neville announces when Seamus gets himself to the hidden room.

I'm fine, he wants to say, but he's still shaking.

Some people sweat. Others get fevered. Others can't stop crying. But for Seamus it's shaking. His voice, his hands, even his hair—he can feel all of it, and it's all shaking. His mam's cat, years ago, was afraid of thunder. She hid in the bathtub, her face in the corner, and shook. She was so small, she looked like a vibrating ball. It was the only time anyone could hold her—but even the comfort of a warm body didn't stop the shaking. It stopped on its own when the storm abated.

"Seamus?"

"Neville?"

He sees Neville purse his lips. "You should lie down."

"I will." He doesn't move. He needs to, he knows that, but he's not ready. "I will. Just… give me a minute."

Neville nods.

Seamus can feel him standing there. He can feel him, just like he can feel the tremors all over his body. He'll lie down, yes, and he'll lie down soon, but he just needs a minute. He needs to rest before he can rest—he needs to forget the curse before he closes his eyes, or he will see nothing else all night.

Something is coming, he can tell. Just like he could feel it at the beginning of the year, he can feel it now. And it's something good. It's something that almost feels like hope.

And if it is—good. They're running short on hope. Maybe they've already run out. There's only a certain amount of time that children can hold strong, but Seamus isn't sure he'll be able to take another curse like that. His body is so close to being done fighting, propelled by a survival instinct; he can't fight anymore, not the losing battle against the Carrows and their hold on Hogwarts.

"I need to see to the new arrivals," Neville says gently.

Seamus nods at him.

"Goodnight, Seamus."

Goodnight, Neville. Seamus closes his eyes. Goodnight, Dean.

.oOo.

"What happened to you?"

"It's alright—it's fine—it's nothing—its—" Seamus breaks himself off to laugh, and his grin stays in place. "I'm—Merlin, Dean—"

"Hey, it's alright, yeah? It'll be alright." He smiles wider. "Hello."

"Hello," Seamus replies. They've never needed greetings—they're too close—but if there's one thing he's able to remember for the rest of his life, it's this: the joy in Dean's voice, the relief in his smile, the love Seamus can feel for and from him.

Dean's smile momentarily slips off as he looks closer at Seamus's face. Seamus can feel his eyes trace the bruises and swelling. It's not the worst of it, but Dean doesn't need to know that, not now.

He grabs Dean's hands and holds on tight.